Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Juicebox Abel (Eric) Bio

My name's Eric. Most of you know me as the Juicebox Abel, or simply as Juicebox. I'm 21 years old, and I aspire to be the best Street Fighter player in the world.

My competitive career began with Super Smash Bros. Melee. I liked the game a lot, but my reaction time was very bad and I disliked the feel of high-level play; I didn't like the focus on movement as a primary strategy. Later on, I saw the infamous Daigo video on Youtube… Thus began my years-long foray into 3rd Strike, which is not a very good game for beginners. I played 3rd Strike from 2005-2009 as Makoto, but I never really achieved any notable success. Just scrub mashing at my arcade, really.

During that period, I also returned to Smash Bros. via Brawl, a game which I still like but I believe the community is dwindling (not to mention a little immature). I learned as I played Brawl that my TV lags, a bittersweet discovery that annoys me to this day (I own a CRT as well, now). I was decent at Brawl, winning some pocket change from my local community, but it never took off as a serious investment.

I had the good fortune to attend EVO 2008 as well as EVO 2009 during this period, and I caught my first glimpses of Alex Valle's legendary footsies, the humble yet foreboding Justin Wong, and the spectacle of the organized fighting game community. It was at those events that I learned the value of getting your ass whooped.

At EVO 2009, Street Fighter 4 was previewed to the American masses. The free play machines had a win cap of 7, and in that 3 day period I decided that I would pour more effort and time into SF4 than any other game. Ironically, I gained my nickname that day as well.

The rest is pretty straightforward. I slowly but surely gained ground on my local superiors (SaBrE), eventually getting to the point where I would get top 3 in every local tournament. Around the time of Devastation 2009, I began winning every single Arizona tournament. For now, I do my best to mentor the players here. I'm also focusing on attending every out-of-state tournament that I can by saving every penny from my full-time job.

My tournament placings (Losses):
Devastation 2009: 7th Place (John Choi, Ken I.)
EVO 2009: 13th place (UTJ, Sanford Kelly)
Level Up tournament: 5th Place (Combofiend, Combofiend)
Devastation 2010: 3rd Place (Marn, Alex Valle)

Street Fighter has been very good to me and I plan on doing this for years. Very few things make me as happy as Street Fighter does. If you love the competitive journey as much as I do, sound off with a comment.

The Glove

Lots of people have asked why I wear a glove when I play. The answer is actually very simple: My hands sweat a lot when I play. This is not really a problem as far as execution goes, but it becomes a problem when the buttons stop working because of masses of dead skin getting caught inside the buttons. Yuck.

It keeps my buttons working. Plus, it's stylish.

Getting Started with Street Fighter

David Sirlin has already written a wonderful book called Playing to Win which explains the competitive mindset that you must have before you can successfully be competitive in any game. He has a much better grasp on the subject than I do, but if you just want a summary, read on. However, I highly recommend reading his book in its entirety at some point. It's free!

Competitive Street Fighter is very difficult. There's a multitude of barriers to overcome before you can be at a level that can be considered "good". In this post, I'll do my best to explain what some of these barriers are and the most efficient ways to tear them down, brick by brick. (They are not listed in any particular order.)

#1 Physical

I included this simply because it needs to be stated; you obviously need physical access to the game i.e., you must own the game, the console it runs on, a TV, and a controller to play the game. Now that that's out of the way...

#2 Paradigm

This barrier represents a constant challenge for most new players. You have to let go of mental constructs that hold you back. There is nothing you can't achieve. There is no "cheap", there is no "broken". There is only the game and how you manipulate it. If you see a move like Abel's Breathless ultra and think "that's cheap", then you have not yet overcome the barrier of Paradigm. The correct thought would be: "Breathless is a good move. Perhaps it's much better than most moves in the game. But the game will not change just because I don't like it. I must learn the counter to Breathless and apply it. If for some reason countering it is especially difficult, maybe I should learn Abel. That is, If Abel truly represents the clearest path to victory."

#3 Execution

Practice, practice, practice. It doesn't matter if you know what you're supposed to do at a particular moment. What matters is that you are able to do it at a moment's notice, without thinking about it. Throw teching, option selects, BnB combos, punishing on reaction, hit-confirming…
Having good execution cannot be understated as a requirement. For help on practicing execution, see the next post titled "What to practice in Training Mode".

#4 Psychological

No matter how good you are, Street Fighter is a 2-player game. Any skill you have can be matched by your opponent. In every matchup and situation, you must demonstrate the ability to get into your opponent's mind and deter him from winning. He is surely doing the same to you. If you cannot condition your opponent, you will not be able to survive the highest levels of play.

#5 Geographical

This is almost as important as #1. What good is Street Fighter if you have no one to play it with? More specifically, how can you hope to beat someone like Filipino Champ if you can't beat Joe Schmo down the street? You need access to a player base in order to get your skills going. Online play is a reasonable substitute, but also a bad one, for reasons I will outline in a later post. For now, just keep in mind that online play will not fully prepare you for offline tournaments unless your opponents have good adaptation skills (and they won't, at least the vast majority won't).

What To Practice In Training Mode

1) Combos

Every character has Bread and Butter (BnB) combos that need to be perfected. For you to be successful with your character of choice, you need to be able to perform these combos consistently in both familiar and unfamiliar situations. I like to practice each combo 30 times in a row. If I fail the combo, I start over at zero again. In addition, certain characters are much more dangerous when you can land specific combos. As an example, here are a few combos you need to be able to do with Abel before you can do serious damage with him:
- cr.HP xx HP Falling Sky
- Forward Kick xx dash, close HP xx HP Change of Direction
- cr.MK xx LP Change of Direction xx Focus cancel xx dash forward, cr.HP, Soulless

If you need help finding these combos for your character, the forums at shoryuken.com are a great place to start.

2) Punishes

Effective punishing skills will ensure that your damage output is maximized. A lot of moves in the game are unsafe; that is, if you block it, you can immediately counterattack and it will be guaranteed to land. Example: After blocking Cody's Zonk Knuckle (any strength), Abel can punish with Forward Kick (into combo). Go into training mode then set Cody to do Zonk Knuckles followed immediately by blocking. Practice landing that Forward Kick after blocking the Zonk, and no Cody will Zonk you ever again.

3) Hit-Confirming

Hit-confirming, if you didn't know, is the ability to turn a sequence of attacks into a combo on reaction. The simplest example is with Ken's cr.LK, cr.LP string. if this string is blocked, Ken is safe and can go for throw mixups, overheads, or defensive play. But if it hits, Ken can go into a HP Shoryuken. The basic skill here is seeing and recognizing that the two light attacks connected or were blocked. Some character types, like the Shotos, rely heavily on hit-confirming for their damage, so this is an essential skill.
To practice hit-confirming, simply set the dummy's guard to "random". In addition, you'll need a hit-confirmable combo to practice. As a rule of thumb, a combo is hit-confirmable if it consists of 3 or more attacks and is interruptible between each attack. It's also a good idea for the first two attacks to be safe on block. The easiest example is Ken's cr.LK, cr.LP, HP Shoryuken combo (link the Shoryuken). Another would be Chun Li's cr.LP, cr.LP, st.LP, st.HP combo.

4) Throw Teching

Teching throws is difficult for most beginners. The hard part is learning exactly when to press the buttons to tech the throw. If you press them too early, you stop blocking and are open to attack. Press them too late and you get thrown anyway. Set the dummy to do throws in a particular rhythm, such as the 4th beat of a 4/4 time measure in music. Practice teching the throw standing as well as crouching, taking note that the timing for the two different techs is slightly different. (A crouching tech must be slightly delayed)
As a side note, I'd like to mention that I've seen lots of intermediate players adapt a particular strategy for avoiding throws while blocking. They do a crouching tech after every normal they block, assuming that if the next attack is a throw it will be teched, and if it's another normal nothing will happen since I'm in blockstun. This is highly dangerous and you will have your face ROCKED at the next big tournament you go to. This only works against people who don't know how to delay their pokes to catch tech attempts. In other words, people who have boring and predictable offense.

5) Situational Training

Did you know that Juri can jump at a particular spot where her j.MK will cross you up but her j.HP will not and knock you down on your ass? Did you know that C.Viper can hop over your corpse with her Viper Elbow (F+MP) even in the corner? Most characters have tricky things like this that you'll need to know about before you can combat them effectively. You don't want random situations to happen at the end of a heated tournament match. Use training mode with lots of different characters and situations to see if you can find anything new that you might find useful. Barring that, after suffering a defeat because of one of these tactics, reproduce it in training mode to find its counter. Always remember, there is no uncounterable move or strategy.